Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Closer Look at Space Requirements for Event RFPs

Time to examine in more detail another area that is a must to include on your event RFPs – Space Requirements.

When I discussed the major areas that needed to be covered by your RFP, I said that you needed to provide an outline of the space requirements for the group and gave a couple of details that go into that outline. Let’s look at those items a bit more closely and see what we can add to them. And, remember, you will need to provide this information to the venue for each function room for each day of your event.

1. How many rooms will you need and how will they be used? This is usually pretty easy to figure out but can throw a couple of curves at you. If you have a general session and four concurrent breakout sessions for your one-day event, you might be tempted to simply put that you need five rooms. However, the venue may want to know if the general session room can be used for one (or more) of the breakouts. The answer to that will change your space requirements. Does your program have the flexibility and time to do a “change-over” from one set to another like that? Will you be providing lunch or dinner or holding a reception – or all of the above? Will those food functions need to be served in their own spaces or can they use rooms already held for the meeting portion of your agenda? All of these questions affect the answer to “how many rooms do you need?” After all, if you don’t know how the space you’re requesting is going to be used, how can the venue properly prepare for you?

2. What types of room sets will each room need and for how many people? This is a critical component of your RFP. Since each type of room set takes up a different amount of space, providing this information allows the venue to figure out how much space they need to commit for your general session, each breakout, or any other function you might hold as part of your overall event. For more about room sets, check out these posts: types of room sets, what is the best room set, and how to calculate room capacities.

3. When will you use the space you are requesting? Do not just assume that the venue knows that you need the space from 8am to 5pm – tell them. Likewise, if you know that your general session is in the morning only and your breakouts are only in the afternoon, let the hotel know so they can block out space accurately for you. If you need a 24-hour hold on a room, you had better say so. Otherwise, you may find that the venue has sold the space you are using during the day to another group to use for their dinner. In many cases, this is not an issue but I will always ask for my “office” room to be held on a 24-hour basis. Another example: if I have an extensive audio-visual setup, I do not assume that the venue will automatically reserve the space for me overnight. I will ask for a 24-hour hold – and explain why I am requesting it.

I also stressed in my previous post the importance of making realistic estimates of your event’s attendance and space needs. This is where your group history is invaluable to you. Even if you do not share all of the historical details you have for the group, that history will guide your requests. You will know what they have used in the past, what trends exist (if any), and when a particular space request is outside the bounds of what the group historically has done.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What is the best room set for a meeting?

Well…that depends on the meeting. There really is no one style that is best in all situations. The “best” style of room set is dependent on how much space you have to work with, how many people will attend, and the purpose of the meeting. Take the time to look at your meeting in detail, and the answer will often present itself – especially if you are familiar with the basic room sets and when to use them.

In this post, I examined five “standard” room set categories that are used for most meetings and conferences. Today, I’d like to take another look at them and consider when and why you might use each one.

For a typical meeting, Classroom (or Schoolroom) seating or Theater seating are the most commonly used. These sets work best when the meeting is presentation-centered, meaning that the focus of the meeting is on the presentations. Of the two, I prefer to use Classroom seating since it offers participants a place to set their drinks and a surface to write on. Theater seating, though, is great for maximizing the number of seats you can get into the room.

If you need the meeting participants to be more actively involved in the meeting, then I would consider using a set that allows everyone to sit around the same table as much as possible. This means using either a variation of Hollow Square or a variation of Rounds (Banquet seating). Rounds can be done as “full” or “crescent” and are good for when you have a mix of lecture-style presentations with some small group work – and you need to do it all in the same room.

Hollow Square, as a general category, covers (in my mind) any room set that creates a rectangular workspace with the meeting participants along the outside. If the number of people is small, then you could do this as a Boardroom Table or as “Conference” seating. As the number of people who need to sit at the table increases, you eventually reach a point where the middle of the table “disappears” and you have a Hollow Square. A U-Shape seating arrangement simply removes one side of the square, which then becomes the front of the room. Hollow Square and its variations are good for meetings in which the participants need to engage each other on a regular basis throughout the day and any presentations are there to support their work. Board meetings, planning group meetings, and strategy meetings are all examples of meetings that would use this type of seating. A word of warning, though, about this style of room set… If you get above about 40 or 50 people, it no longer becomes practical for everyone to sit at the table. The set takes up an enormous amount of space and it becomes increasingly difficult for participants to see or hear people on the opposite side of the table. Technology (microphones, video monitors, etc.) can mitigate this somewhat, but you still reach a point at which that fails as well.

For those rare occasions in which you do not need (or want) seating for the meeting, you can use Reception seating. This style allows you to provide small tables, called “highboys” for people to use as writing surfaces. It also encourages shorter meetings since people are less inclined to take a long time if they have to stand through the entire meeting. I have often seen this approach suggested as a way to shorten staff meetings for that very reason.

So, which is best? None of them. As I mentioned at the start, many factors go into making that determination for each meeting. Is this a lecture-type of meeting, with a series of speakers presenting from the front of the room? Will the attendees need to interact with each other to do group exercises? Do you even need seats?

And, how much space does each of these sets take? Check out this post for a discussion about seating capacities, or you can download this one-page cheat sheet showing how many people can fit into a room for each style of seating.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Building a Music Festival

Over the last 20 years, RDL enterprises’ staff has planned thousands of meetings and conferences from concept to completion throughout the United States, Canada, and U.S. Commonwealth territories. Recently, and thanks to the social networking site Linkedin, RDL was awarded a contract to plan their first music festival. Luckily, one of RDL's planners has the music production experience to draw in this new client. We wrote the bid and won. Suffice it to say, we are all out of our usual day-to-day habitual job duties. I’m reminded of the saying, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” (Neale Donald Walsch)

We have until June to execute this one-day event. In many ways, it’s not that different from planning a meeting. Here, I’d like to use a building metaphor. Before construction can begin, the client/contractor will meet at the site to discuss the basic footprint to ensure the project is understood from each angle. From there, the team will design the layers of the building, determine the responsibilities of the project, distribute the assignments, and the team will begin construction.

Planning a music festival involves the same type of structure. How much space is there? What is the capacity, what permits; codes for traffic and vehicles are needed? How many vendors can we hold, budget, sponsors, advertising, media relations, contracts, volunteers, committees? Most importantly the music! It can be all encompassing. I chuckle at how much is put into a one-day event. It seems to take as much energy to do a three-day conference.

My point is, however broad your event may be, it’s important to remember to slow down, stay organized, ask for help, write down everything, have a co-assistant, and be confident it will all work out. Dealing with the stress of such a harrowing process is crucial. I find that staying in shape is extremely helpful with the demands it takes to plan. Thank you, yoga! [See this post for other ideas. – ed.]

This experience, which is far from completed, has been incredible. I’m thankful to have this opportunity to keep growing and learning, personally and professionally.

For more information on the event, please visit, Tickets go on sale soon!

~ Tess Conrad, Meeting Planner and Coloma Blues Live Event Manager • RDL enterprises

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How long does it take to serve lunch for 100 people?

When I first heard this question, my immediate reaction based on experience was to say “about one hour” and leave it at that. However, this question actually opens up several issues that I think are important to consider as well when you are planning a lunch (or any meal) for your group. To address those issues, I contacted one of my counterparts on the hotel side of the equation to get her thoughts as well. Megan Chappell is a Director of Convention Services and she deals with timing and staffing issues for banquet services constantly. She was kind enough to share her guidelines with me, which I have incorporated into my thoughts below.

Before addressing how long people take to eat their meal, though, let’s look at plated and buffet lunches and see how those affect staffing. After all, the number of staff working your event can impact how long it takes to serve the meal.

For plated lunches (let’s assume a three-course meal), a hotel will typically provide one server for every 30 people. They may change that figure to one per 20 people for high-end events (such as weddings or VIP lunches). On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve worked with hotels that would staff one per 40 people for larger conferences. So, for 100 people dining, I would expect to see 3-5 servers working the room.

The calculation for buffets works a little differently. Here, a hotel will plan to do a single-sided buffet for up to 75 people. Typically, one server will man the line. For 75-150 people, they will do a double-sided buffet and add a second server to staff the line. So, if you’re planning a buffet lunch for 100 people, I would look to have a double-sided buffet line and two servers to manage it.

Of course, the base calculations for both plated and buffet meals use a default time of one hour for the meal service, so what about the actual serving of the meal? How can that be done faster?

Well, there are a couple of things you can do that can speed up delivery of the meal. The first option is to have certain parts of the meal pre-set, meaning that those items are already on the table when the meal is served. Salad and dessert are commonly done this way when serving plated meals for lunch events on a short timetable. With buffets, there is not much that can be pre-set since the whole idea of a buffet is to let diners choose what they get for their meal. Another option available is to ask the hotel to add extra servers or extra buffet lines – but be prepared to pay for those extra bodies and lines. There are real costs involved in providing those to you that the hotel must recoup. [By the way, if you want to do a buffet and are on a short timeline for lunch, do not do a Deli Buffet! This is the slowest type of buffet for diners to get through.]

So we’ve now sped up the delivery of lunch. Does this mean we can get everyone in and out of there quicker? Interestingly enough, the answer is no, the meal still takes about one hour to complete, regardless of the number of diners. “No”? Why not?

Even if extra servers deliver plated lunches quicker or you can pre-set the entire meal, diners still take about an hour to complete finish up. And, it does not seem to matter how many buffet lines you provide; it still takes a group 15-20 minutes to go through the lines and 30-40 minutes to eat (not counting second or third helpings…). I think some of the reason for this can ultimately be ascribed to human behavioral patterns and what we are mentally “programmed” to do. In the US at least, lunch is generally expected to be 30 minutes to one hour in length (consider your lunch break at work, for example) and I believe that groups of people automatically and unconsciously tend to follow that guideline.

Out of curiosity, I conducted a little experiment at home and at work for a week to see how long my meals would take alone or with company. Eating by myself, I would get through a meal in 15-30 minutes from the time the food hit the table, depending on what I was eating and how much of a hurry I was in. When I ate with others, meals would take longer to finish, especially if there were multiple courses. In fact, the more people present at the table, the longer the average time spent at the meal. Then factor in delivery time from the kitchen to the table, and meals with other people frequently ended up being approximately one hour in length…

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Social Networking – In Person!
The Sacramento CVB’s member mixer at Bulls

Last night, the Sacramento Convention Center Visitor Bureau’s (SCVB) monthly Mixer was held at Bulls Downtown, a western-themed bar complete with a mechanical bull! It was a unique experience in networking, fun, entertainment, and a delightful time for all.

Karl Baur, CMP (left), RDL enterprises & Jeff Dougherty (right), SCVB

Sometimes networking can be a challenge, but last night’s SCVB Mixer was a lot of fun. Bulls Downtown was a perfect setting to relax after a long day, have a brew, re-connect with old friends and colleagues – and meet new ones. Whether is was the perfect atmosphere or my late afternoon frame of mind – I enjoyed myself, totally! I met some really cool people and learned all kinds of things about businesses that I knew nothing about before. For example…

Andrea Martin, owner of Bulls, was a delight. She is a young, inspiring woman who had a fun idea and has turned it into a lucrative business that is very unique to the Sacramento downtown area. Bulls has been in Sacramento for only a few short months, but it is astonishing all that Andrea has done with the place, A-L-R-E-A-D-Y! Bulls is complete with great eats, great drinks, and a very active mechanical bull for anyone who is brave enough, daring enough, or just plain crazy to give it a whirl.

Through our networking, Andrea and I had a short, but great, conversation. In talking about her business, she asked about ours. One key word led to another and, just like that, we have already found an opportunity to work together.

We are pleased to be the logistics planners for Coloma Blues Live! on June 4th in El Dorado County. Check it out if you like beautiful drives through the foothills, enjoy the great outdoors, or just love the Blues. Andrea was excited about this event and, hopefully, may be able to partner with us to share her great food with the Blues crowd.

~ Cyndy Hutchinson • CFO & Executive Director, RDL enterprises